It’s a well-loved tradition. When people see evergreen trees decorated with garland and lights and glowing in windows across town, they know that the season for warmth and togetherness has arrived.
You don’t have to celebrate Christmas to appreciate the beauty of a Christmas tree. However, if you’d like, it’s easy to enjoy the tradition by selecting and even cutting a real holiday tree of your own.
Selecting a Christmas Tree
Whether you’re buying a pre-cut tree from a farm or another vendor, or you plan to choose and cut your own Christmas tree at a do-it-yourself farm (or a forest, if you have the proper Christmas tree cutting permit), there are ways to look for and inspect a tree to make sure it will be a good match for your home.
But! Before you head out, one piece of advice: measure the space where you plan to place it! You don’t want to spend all that time looking for a stunning tree only to get home and discover it’s too wide for your living room or too tall for your ceiling.
Measure your space, and be certain that the tree will be far from a fireplace, radiator, or other heat source (but close to electrical outlets so that you can safely plug in lights).
Once you’ve got your measurements, it’s time to head out in search of the holiday spirit while considering the type, health, and appearance of your ideal tree.
Choosing a Type of Christmas Tree
Pine trees might be what people often think of when they picture Christmas trees, but they’re not the only kind of holiday tree you can choose. Evergreens like firs, cypresses, and spruces all look wonderful with ornaments sparkling in their branches.
This chart compares some of the most common kinds of Christmas trees available. Read about their qualities, and decide if one sounds like the right choice for you!
Looking for a Healthy Christmas Tree
You don’t have to be an arborist to get an idea of a Christmas tree’s health. All you need to do is perform a few simple checks.
One way to check if a tree is fresh is to break one of its branches several inches back from the tip. Does it feel moist inside? If so, the tree has healthy circulation and should be primed to stay fresh throughout the holidays.
You might not want to break off one of your potential tree’s branches, though. Not a problem—just take a look at the needles. They should be green and pliant, not brown and brittle. If you gently grasp a branch and pull your hand back along it, you shouldn’t see many needles fall off, if any at all.
If you’re considering a pre-cut Christmas tree, you have an additional way to test it. Simply lift the tree off the ground a few inches and, loosening your grasp just a little, let the bottom of the trunk drop straight to the ground so that you give it a small bump. If you see a lot of green needles fall, the tree is probably too dry and should be left on the lot.
Thinking About a Christmas Tree’s Appearance
The most impressive tree on the lot might be the one with dense branches full of lush, green needles. That might not be the one you want to take home, however!
Think about how many ornaments you want to hang on your tree. If you have a lot, don’t be afraid to choose a tree with lots of space between its boughs. A dense tree might look great on the lot, but it will be difficult to decorate.
Also, think about the tree’s overall shape. Many farmers shear and prune their trees starting in the spring before the harvest season for the conical look that’s so popular and picture-perfect. However, if you live near a forest where permits for Christmas tree harvesting are given out, you might be able to find one with a natural shape.
An unsheared tree might offer you more space for decorations, along with a kind of rustic charm.
Cutting Down Your Christmas Tree
On Christmas tree farms, trees grow for 6-10 years before they’re harvested. Trees ideally should have trunks no larger than 6” in diameter.
However, even at DIY farms and events, a professional usually will be on hand to help with or do the cutting.
If you choose to cut your tree yourself, most likely you’ll be using a hand saw, though an electric chainsaw or homeowner-grade gas chainsaw also can do the trick. With a handsaw, often one person lies on the ground and cuts while another holds the tree and pulls lower boughs out of the cutter’s way.
Whether you choose a pre-cut tree or cut your own, your small chainsaw can still come in handy. Use it to cut the bottom ˝-1” off the trunk of the tree to help it absorb more water and stay fresh.
And get ready for it to absorb a lot of water in those first few days after you bring it home! A tree stand that can hold about a gallon of water will be a worthwhile investment.
The Tradition of Giving
In the past, people have expressed concerns about how environmentally and socially responsible chopping down a Christmas tree could be.
It’s true: reusing the same artificial tree for several years does have some benefits. But the advantages of harvesting your own Christmas tree shouldn’t be ignored:
Christmas trees are mostly raised as farm crops, where they benefit our atmosphere and soil while they grow (and contribute to the farm economy when they’re harvested).
Cutting a tree in a forest where it’s legally regulated through a permit system thins out dangerous undergrowth and helps with good forest management.
A tree that’s properly recycled into mulch at the end of the season stays out of landfills, unlike old artificial trees.
Then there are the real Christmas tree benefits that reach beyond the realm of policy: the way the fresh scent of an evergreen tree invigorates the spirit, for example, or the way the soft glow of Christmas tree lights seems to push back winter’s chill.
Choosing and even cutting your own Christmas tree is easy to do with a little know-how. When you choose a real tree for your holiday tree, you not only keep a tradition; you give back in so many other ways.